As we’re based in Singapore and focusing much of our initial coverage on the Asia-Pacific region, we thought we’d track down a few folks making good beer in our neck of the woods to ask them about their favorite beer-related experiences in Asia. Some of these stories can be recreated on your own, and some of them can’t–but at the heart of them all lies curiosity and an open, adventuresome spirit.
We hope these stories spark inspiration to plan your next beery Asian adventure.
Grant Wearin, Co-Founder of Modus Operandi Brewing Co. in Mona Vale, Australia
Sunset Bintangs overlooking the cliffs of Bali’s Uluwatu after a full day surfing as a 14-year-old with the old man. (He’d been on those cliffs all day watching me, so how many Bintangs he’d polished is anybody’s guess.) At the time I remember thinking, ‘wow, that’s a lot better than my homebrew’ and, at the time, that pilsner had so much flavour. Thankfully my lupulin threshold has risen exponentially in the 20 years since then, and I can’t get enough of well-structured, tank-fresh IPA. In some ways that’s a reason why we built Modus Operandi–the beach is 300m away and we loaded it full of our tank-fresh beers.
Nadine Fanlo, Co-Founder of Pedro Brewcrafters in San Pedro City, Philippines
Hong Kong Beertopia was the beer event that inspired us to start brewing. When we went for the first time a few years ago, we were blown away by the sheer variety of craft beers emerging in the region. The energy and excitement for craft beer from the people we met was infectious. Every time we go, we always get surprised by unique beer styles and new participating breweries, and always leave inspired.
Even though craft beer in the Philippines is a relatively new concept, Brewfest MNL is an event that everyone here gets excited about. As brewers, we love being able to meet the people that drink our beer, showcase our new brews, and even introduce craft beer to those who have never tried it before. Brewfest MNL is only going on its third year, but with each event you really get a taste for the growing and thriving Philippine craft beer scene.
Dave Byrn, Brewmaster at Pasteur Street Brewing Company in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
In my relatively short tenure brewing in Vietnam I have experienced many great beer-related festivals and events. However, my fondest memory of drinking in Asia came roughly one month after my arrival in Vietnam. I work in a province outside of Saigon, and one night after brewing stopped at my local roadside pho shop. A kindly Vietnamese man offered me a seat at his table and started buying me beers. Neither one of us could speak the other’s language very well, but we did share the language of beer.
He then invited me to his local bia hoi to meet with his friends. I followed him on my motorbike down some dark roads, wondering what I was getting myself into, but fortunately I ended up making several new friends that night. Despite the language barriers we drank and ate into the wee hours of the morning, relying on the universal translator that is beer.
I learned that night to get out of the city for authentic Vietnamese-style drinking.
Michele Wong Raphael, Co-Founder of Moonzen Brewery in Hong Kong
My favourite beer-related experience in Asia would have to be going to an excavation site in the Shaanxi Province. Why? We’ve been working and researching how to brew a recreation of beer deposits found in ancient pottery in a 5,000-year-old archaeological site. This project to recreate a fermented beverage from pre-historic China has definitely been unique and eye-opening!
Kristian Li, Co-Founder and Brewer at Jing-A Brewing Company in Beijing, China
I love getting into the beer culture in different cities in Asia. Whether it’s drinking cold lagers in Vietnam or experimental saisons in Japan, it’s amazing to see how beer and local culture meld together in each city. After living in Asia for over 15 years, one of my favorite beer-related experiences actually happened in Qingdao during the annual Qingdao Beer Festival almost a decade ago. Beer fans get fresh beer from the Qingdao brewery poured directly into a plastic bag! You get to enjoy a “jin” of cold, fresh beer in a plastic bag with a couple of straws, and watch the day unfold. Pure beer bliss!
Sunghoo Yang, CEO of The Booth Brewing Co. in Seoul, South Korea
I’m proud to say The Beer Week Seoul (TBWS), a beer festival we organize twice a year, is my favorite local beer experience.
We wanted TBWS to be a venue where world-renowned beers and local hidden gems are served in a single space. Unlike many other festivals, we’ve structured it so that breweries do not pay a separate (often hefty) entrance fee–we simply purchase kegs from them and serve them ourselves. This allows us to control how beers are served and kept. As a brewery ourselves, we’re extremely prudent about how our beers are treated. For participating breweries, this allows even the smallest and under-resourced breweries to show off their beers to the public without having to worry about when they’ll break even for the event, if at all.
We also airship some of the most difficult-to-find beers so that we can serve them at their freshest conditions. Some of our Other Half IPAs we served at the last event were merely 10 days old; I must’ve drank half a keg by myself.
Because of the nature of the festival, it attracts many beer enthusiasts. However, we also saw many first-time craft beer drinkers attracted by the big crowd and willing to step outside their comfort zone and try IPAs and imperial stouts. It was quite a sight to see.
Joe Finkenbinder, Founder of Bionic Brew in Shenzhen, China
My favorite beer experience in Asia took place in Laos along the Mekong River, when I spent an entire day slowly moving through the water on a long wooden boat and staring off into the jungle. I cracked ice cold beer after beer on a humid and hot day while watching men and elephants work the land along the river banks until the sun set. The beer we drank, Beerlao, wasn’t a craft beer because none existed in Laos at the time, but it was the perfect beer for the moment.
Luke Yardley, Co-Founder of Yardley Brothers Brewing in Hong Kong
Every weekend we run the Beer Shack on Lamma Island, what you might call “the tropical hippie island” southwest of Hong Kong. My brother and I started brewing there four years ago, and we still serve our regular taps and occasionally debut new single-batch beers to the mix of tourists and locals that come out. It’s on the way to the beach, so we get lots of thirsty people passing by and it’s become a bit of a hangout for some of the Lamma craft beer fans who drop in for a beer most weekends (and sometimes don’t even make it past the Shack).
I’ve met loads of interesting people at the Beer Shack: the guy who invented the widget; random Korean pop stars being followed by a film crew; musicians who later played gigs at our brewery; and people who’ve become some of my best friends. We get people from all over the world. Sometimes we’ll have conversations in five or six different languages going on simultaneously. A decent beer always helps bring people together and breaks through cultural barriers, so an afternoon at the Beer Shack is easily my favourite way to spend a Sunday in Hong Kong.
Meng-Chao, Co-Founder of Smith Street Taps and Founder of Brewers’ Craft in Singapore
I’ve been fortunate to have widely travelled specifically for beer, or more broadly for alcohol-related travel. I’ve really enjoyed Japan (Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka and Yokohama) and Bangkok, from hole-in-the-wall places where you squeeze shoulder to shoulder at the bar to full-on multi-tap establishments. Others have had killer selections of whiskies, sakes, wines, and cocktails (and absinthe, if that’s your choice); many of these places are all unique in their own ways.
However, regardless of the destinations, languages, or strange accents, the greatest experiences for me are the people that I have met during these travels, whether in Asia, USA, or Europe. Brewers, bartenders, owners, or just fellow “partakers” at the bar, many have become friends. So next time when you’re in a bar on your travels, take time to talk to the people behind and around the bar. These will be the best experiences you will have. You’re never alone when you have a drink. Cheers!
Panitan Tongsiri, Marketing Director of Stone Head Thai Craft Beer in Koh Rong, Cambodia
I love the different varieties of drinking cultures in Asia, which are based on geography and weather, and sampling all the local foods and snacks in each region. So at Stone Head, we try to produce in unique ways new flavors by using local ingredients that help create remarkable tastes in our beers. In Bangkok, I enjoy drinking at Bottles of Beer on Sukhumvit Soi 34 the most. Craft beer may be more prevalent than ever in Bangkok, but it’s BoB’s honey-roasted chicken and duck burger that keep me coming back. The famous Taopiphop Bar Project in Nonthaburi, just outside Bangkok, has the best atmosphere for beer lovers and a good selection of craft beer.
Rohit Parwani, Head Brewer at The Biere Club in Bangalore, India
The first craft beer I had in Asia was in 2013 in Bangalore, India, after I’d returned from Edinburgh after graduating from Brewing School. I figured I’d meet the head brewer at this brewpub, maybe talk beer for a bit, maybe exchange some notes. He offered me a glass of beer so I chose a pint of Belgian Strong Ale as it seemed exciting and I hadn’t had a Belgian ale in a while. I was blown away by the taste, and I could not hide my excitement (which the head brewer noticed).
We got to talking a little bit more, first about Belgian beers and then about my plan and prospects in India. I told him I was still figuring things out, and then right there he offered me a job as an assistant brewer. Naturally I was surprised–the name of the brewpub? The Biere Club.
I’m still here, now as the head brewer, and still striving to live up to that first glass of Belgian Strong Ale my (then unexpected) mentor offered. I want to make people understand that beer is an intuitive beverage, and a canvas that so generously allows craft lovers like me to express ourselves.
Ayah Javier, Founder of Palaweno Brewery in Palawan, Philippines
What comes to mind when I think of beer is ayahay, which is actually a native slang here meaning “relax” or “chill.” And this is precisely why Palaweño Brewery’s brand name is AYAHAY Craft Beers, which happens to be a play on my name, Ayah, too. Picture yourself in Palawan, which I feel is the most beautiful island in the world, by the pristine white-sand beach with a cold, refreshing beer in your hand. For me, it just can’t get any better.
Ivan Yeo, Director and Head Chef at The 1925 Brewing Co., Restaurant in Singapore
My favourite beer-related experience in Asia would be my visit to Great Leap Brewing in Beijing. This was to their first outlet, which was in a hutong. It was just a very small bar with a courtyard, but the beers were certainly big in flavours. At Great Leap the brewers try their best to use local ingredients in their beers, and even the hops are local to a certain extent. The beer names are based on local stories, as well, and we can certainly relate to that ideology as our own brewery, The 1925, strives to achieve similar ideals. It was certainly an eye-opening experience.